As the last of the children followed his mother out of the church doors, screaming on a sugar high, Skyelar returned to the worship hall and closed the doors behind her, breathing a sign of relief. Helping her father with church events was fine, but dealing with twenty-five six-year-olds for a birthday party was a bit too much for her. At least everyone had fun.
Skyelar tucked her dark hair behind her ears and checked her blue and white checked dress for tiny handprints. Nodding in approval, she smoothed out the fabric and walked down the aisle to assist her family with the clean-up. They could have had the party in the kitchen; it would have been less messy, but Nole wanted to be sure the entire congregation was included. Needless to say, church services were a little out of the ordinary that morning. Not only for the change of direction for Nole’s sermon in order to incorporate the celebration of Life, but the absence of Elias made it more out of the ordinary. He never missed a service, but duty called that morning as a business owner. Skyelar was disheartened, but understood.
”I noticed your boyfriend wasn’t here today,” Peyton teased, helping Skyelar throw paper plates with half-eaten cake on them into a large garbage bag.
”He’s not my boyfriend,” Skyelar replied solemnly. She glanced up to see her mother glaring at her, and shook her head. Kordelia would think what she wanted, and Skyelar could not stop her. Nor did she want to. The days of making a concerted effort with her mother were all but over after she ruined the wedding dress. And her own wedding.
”Why don’t I believe you?” Peyton laughed, continuing to tease, lovingly. ”I think you’ve spent more Time with him in the last few months than you have with anyone else.”
Peyton laughed. ”Of you? Not a chance. I’d rather live with my full moon curse than deal with all that magical crap you have.”
”Oh, you mean like this?” Skyelar lifted a hand and twisted her wrist, lifting a small chunk of cake from the table. With a flick of her finger, the piece of cake flew to Peyton’s face, smearing red and orange icing all over her face. Peyton gaped, tasting some of the light fluffy vanilla cake, and stared at her sister. Of course, Skyelar leaned against the table, laughing.
”Yep. Okay. Real mature.” Peyton smirked, trying to hide her amusement, and stepped forward to grab a piece of cake for herself. She had every intention of paying her sister back for that, but Skyelar beat her to the punch. Before Peyton could reach for the cake, Skyelar moved the garbage bag so her sister tripped over it, falling onto the bag where more icing would cling to her dress.
”Skyelar!” Peyton pouted, no longer enjoying the taunting. ”What is wrong with you? Oh, my God. There’s icing everywhere!”
”Skyelar, that’s enough!” Kordelia ordered, rushing around the table to help her precious daughter. ”Why do you always have to ruin things with your magic?”
”Mom, really,” Peyton said as she took Kordelia and Wesley’s hands to help her up. ”It’s not that big of a deal...”
Wesley shook his head at Peyton. ”Don’t do that.”
”Do what?” Peyton wondered, darting her head around toward him.
”Try to be the referee. That’s not you.”
”Are you kidding me?”
”Guys, listen, it’s just cake,” Skyelar said, attempting to prevent everyone from arguing in the church. ”It’ll wash out. I’ll just use my magic and everything will be good as new.”
Kordelia suddenly jerked her head around to stare at Skyelar while Peyton continued to argue with Wesley. ”Strange how, now, you can suddenly use your magic to clean up your mess. Where was that effort when you ruined my dress?”
Skyelar folded her arms. If she had a nickel for every time her mother brought that damn dress up in the last few months, she would have enough money to build her own city that she could exile the woman from. ”Oh, the effort was there. I just didn’t care. You know, since my entire world fell apart in the span of an hour.”
As Kordelia took another step forward to invade Skyelar’s personal space, Nole leaned against the podium, watching. He held his chin in his hands with his elbow on the wood podium. He speculated that had Kordelia not intervened, Peyton would have shrugged off her fall and the girls would just banter playfully back and forth as they were wont to do at times. It was a rare occasion that they had fun with each other anymore, and Nole wished Kordelia would stop using every opportunity as an excuse to vent her frustrations and resentments.
Sure, Nole could have stepped in to stop them, but what would be the point? They were too engrossed to listen to him. Instead of attempting to say anything to calm the situation, Nole simply grabbed his bible and notebook and escaped the chaos for the calm privacy of his office.
”Dad?” Skyelar asked, immediately noticing his retreat. When he did not turn to acknowledge her, Skyelar rounded on her mother. ”You want to talk about me always screwing things up. What about you? You always back me into a corner like this and then it upsets Dad.”
Kordelia was not worried about Nole in the least. He would huff about his family being imperfect, but Kordelia was trying to fix it. No thanks to him. ”I don’t know what you’re talking about, Skyelar. You are the most ungrateful child I’ve ever met. After all I’ve done for you…”
”What have you done for me? Tell me because I sure as Hell can’t figure it out.”
”I raised you!” Kordelia exclaimed, garnering Peyton’s attention once more. Her Lycan daughter growled and approached to stand by Kordelia’s side.
”Oh, tuck your tail away, Peyton,” Skyelar scoffed. ”You’ve got no business bringing that bitch out right now.”
Peyton was just angry enough that she let Skyelar get to her. She shrugged off Wesley’s protective hand and quickly morphed into the beast that lurked within. Clothes ripped and torn in a pile onto the floor, Peyton stood with her light brown wolf fur glistening in the rays of sunlight that spilled through the stained-glass windows. She leaned forward on her front legs, ready to pounce and attack Skyelar.
Before her sister could lunge forward in her attack, Skyelar lifted her hands toward the baptism pool. The clear holy water rose in a large wave from the pool and arched nearly to the vaulted ceiling before it came crashing down on Peyton, knocking her flat on her stomach with a yelp. As the water sank into the carpet and spilled down the aisle, Kordelia and Wesley ran toward Peyton to ensure her safety. Her wolf crawled back inside her Human form, leaving her cold and shivering in the water.
”Maybe that’ll wash the Devil out of all of you,” Skyelar commented.
Turning away from all of them, Skyelar went through the doors at the front of the worship hall, weaving down the hallways until she found Nole’s office. He sat at his desk, bible open, taking notes for next week’s sermon. No doubt he would have something to relate to the fighting among his own family. When Skyelar knocked, he glanced up from his work and motioned to the seat in front of his desk. Skyelar did as she was told, and closed the door behind her, locking it for good measure.
”How much damage is there this Time?” Nole asked, lacing his hands together on his desk.
”Just some spilled water. I’ll clean it up. You won’t even know it happened.”
Nole shook his head and sat back. ”I don’t care about the damage done the church, Skye. All that can be replaced. I’m talking about you. How much damage was done to you?”
”I don’t know,” Skyelar shrugged, struggling to look her father in the eye. ”Mom just keeps provoking me. She can’t let anything go anymore.”
”And have you?”
”Have I what?” Skyelar loved her father, but, lately, he had this bad habit of counseling her the way he would one of the members of his congregation. It only bothered her because he seemed to always hit the nail right on the damn head.
”Angel, be honest with me. I think you’re letting your mother get to you becaues you haven’t quite dealt with your break up yet.”
”That’s a stretch, don’t you think?” Skyelar scoffed.
”Actually, I don’t.” Nole rose from his seat and walked around his desk to lean against it. He wanted to be close to his daughter so that she knew he supported her. ”That was an intense relationship, even if it was brief. Ending it in such a traumatic way can, oftentimes, be equivalent to a death. I think you’re in mourning.”
Skyelar folded her arms across her chest and stared her father directly in the eye. ”I am not mourning Aezra.”
”Of course not,” Nole smirked. ”But I know you’ve lost something. Maybe we can sit down together and figure out what you’re missing so you can move forward without it.”
Skyelar felt her heart reach out in pain and yearning. She wanted to share her hurt with someone, but her father could not be that someone. As often as he had bandaged her wounds in the past, this was one wound that Nole would not be able to fix.
Nole reached into his pocket when his phone buzzed. It was Kordelia. Of course, the lot of them were waiting in the car, and she was threatening to make him walk home. ”I’m sorry, Angel. I don’t want to make your mother more upset, so I’ve go to go. But, you can call me if you want to talk about this.”
”I know. Thank you, Daddy.” She smiled softly when he leaned over to kiss the top of her head. She hated that he was always put in the middle between her and Kordelia. All the more reason for her to figure out her own heartache. ”I’ll lock up after I clean up.”
Skyelar followed Nole out of his office and watched him walk out of the worship hall as she stood there in the squishing wet carpet. Looking around at the tan walls with symbols of their religion hung here and there, Skyelar did not allow a single thought to enter her mind. That was how it had been for months. Every time things got a little difficult and her heart threatened to hurt a little, she banished those thoughts to the far recesses of her mind. She had to move forward and figure out who she was, who she used to be. If she dwelled on things she was missing, Skyelar would never be a complete person.
With the carpet gushing little puddles of water beneath her flats, Skyelar meandered into a pew to sit. Then again, if she was going to pause and reflect, this was certainly the place to do so. She had never been one for asking for much from God. The primary reason she even attended church anymore was because her father was the pastor. After all he had done for her, she could not miss hearing him so passionately preach God’s word.
What was she missing? The question weighed heavily on her, filling the air around her until she thought she would suffocate. Skyelar knew damn well she was not missing Aezra. He ruined her; he broke her mind and tried to turn her into someone she could never be. What was she missing? The answer was painfully obvious, but incredibly difficult to admit. Slowly, Skyelar allowed her heart to be vulnerable as she admitted to herself that she mourned the relationship she never got. The one she wanted with Elias. The one she hoped she would have after she ended things with Aezra.
In Skyelar’s mind, she thought she would ride away on the white horse with her real Prince Charming. Since that had yet to happen, Skyelar was lost in the woods. Instead of finding dwarves or woodland creatures to help her through her difficult Time, she was utterly alone. Darkness began to creep in around her with each passing day as she wondered if Elias cared even half as much for her as she did for him.
Suddenly, just like a dream brought to Life, Elias pushed open the chapel doors and walked down the aisle. Skyelar closed her eyes and felt the corners of her mouth tilt upward as he approached. She did not turn around, but waited for him to come to her so she could revel in her dream for just a moment longer.
”Hey,” he said as he sat in the pew net to her without hesitation. ”Sorry I missed the service this morning. Was the party fun?”
”You didn’t miss much,” Skyelar shrugged. She opened her eyes and turned to face him, fastening her life-jacket so she did not drown in his green eyes.
”Really?” Elias laughed, looking down at the wet carpet. ”Looks like I missed something big.”
”I might have dumped holy water on Peyton.” She grinned when Elias shook his head, unsurprised. ”Dad thinks there’s something bothering me. He thinks that’s why I keep picking fights with Peyton.”
”And what do you think?”
”I mean, she’s a pain in the ass and she gets on my nerves. But I think he’s got a point.” She frowned at him, worried to say what was really on her mind, in her heart. ”I just…I haven’t been myself, you know?”
”I know.” Elias put his arm on the back of the pew around her shoulders and sighed. ”I know it’s hard for you right now. You didn’t have a real identity for six months, so this is expected.” ”But I don’t get why I didn’t just go back to the way I was before he did that to me. I hate feeling so…empty.”
Elias repositioned again so he could face her. He took her hands in his with a smile. ”Skye, Life keeps moving forward. There’s no way for you to go back. If you did, you’d risk making the same mistakes all over again. Then where would you be?”
”Be honest with me, Skye,” Elias said, unaware that he was the second man to ask her that today. ”If your dad noticed it enough to say something, then something is wrong. You can talk to me.”
Skyelar shrugged again, struggling to maintain eye contact with him. ”I guess I just feel a little overwhelmed with all this new magic. Like I’ve got all this extra energy inside me and I don’t know how to channel it so I don’t drive myself crazy.”
”Is that all?” Elias smirked. ”I can help with that. No problem.”
”I thought you wanted me to be self-sufficient.”
”I do. But I also want you to be yourself. And sane. So if I can alleviate a little pressure, then I will. Like this. Follow my lead.”
Elias tugged on her hands to rotate her so she faced him in the pew. Holding her tight, they both closed their eyes. Like a warm ray of sunlight, Skyelar felt Elias tip-toe into her mind, knocking gently on the doors she so firmly closed with deadbolt locks. Her back stiffened straight with her walls up. She was not ready for him to see what she was thinking before he arrived. As much as she wanted to know how he felt about her, she could not handle another blow right now. So she kept herself locked up tight, just out of reach.
Feeling her reservations and pain, Elias did not bother knocking on any other doors. If she wanted him in there, she would invite him. As he traveled passed those doors, he felt her body begin to relax. Gliding around her mind, Elias planted little pieces of himself inside her like flower seeds that would grow with her own improving mental health. The seeds were small bits of his own magic that he wanted to share. Something to make her feel stronger and more sure of herself.
Slowly, satisfied he had done just enough to help her get through her uncertainty and doubt, Elias opened his eyes. He rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles and encouraged her to open her own eyes. When she did, he was pleased to see the smile spread across her face.
”Feel better?” he wondered, smiling back at her.
Skyelar nodded. ”A little, yeah. Thank you…for not, you know, pushing me to open up to you.”
Elias shook his head. ”That’s not the best way to earn someone’s trust. You don’t deserve to be invaded like that.”
Skyelar shivered as a chill tickled her spine. She looked around, not wanting to think about Aezra or what he had done to her anymore. Instead, she released Elias’ hands and rose. ”Guess I better clean up my mess.”
Lifting her hands in the air, Skyelar brought the water up off of the carpet like a floating sea. The blue carpet lightened as it dried. Facing her palms outward, Skyelar started to push the water back into the baptism pool where it belonged. She was thwarted, however, by Elias. With one hand, he pushed the majority of the water back into the pool. With the other, he formed a small ball of water and tossed it at Skyelar’s face, playfully.
”You ass!” she cursed in a laugh.
Following suit, Skyelar lifted a bubble of water of her own and chased Elias throughout the worship hall with it. They ran around the hall in much the same way the children had during the birthday party, chasing each other and throwing water bombs at each other. Skyelar ducked behind another pew for safety, hushing her giggle as Elias hunted her. She squealed when he jumped over the pew and landed in front of her, grabbing her and pulling her to him before she could run away. Without any hand gestures to assist, a large bubble of water hovered over them and popped, sending cold water cascading onto them, soaking their clothes.
Skyelar remained in Elias’ grasp, laughing at their personal downpour, allowing him to hold her close. As she rested her head against his chest, she listened to the confident beat of his heart. Closing her eyes, Skyelar lingered in this moment, absorbing it the way her clothes absorbed the water. Her body began to chill from the dampness, but she did not want to move. Slowly, Elias rested his head on top of hers, warming her from the top down with naught save his aura.
Without either of them noticing, that warmth brushed over them both. Skyelar’s mind began to relax and she swore she felt him back in there. Oh, well. If he was, she would allow him a little more passage than before. After all, Elias was not Aezra. Elias would not hurt her the way Aezra had. If she trusted no one else on this Earth, her heart trusted Elias.